David Brister at Rotary Club

Tim Kalich

David Brister, left, presents to Bob Singh one of the tens of thousands of military barracks bags made each month by mostly blind or visually impaired workers in Mississippi. Brister is the technical manager at Mississippi Industries for the Blind in Jackson. Singh, who knows Brister from tennis competitions, arranged for Brister to speak to the Greenwood Rotary Club on Tuesday.

David Brister spent 20 years working for a global manufacturer before taking the job as technical manager at Mississippi Industries for the Blind.

He says the switch in careers was a good one. He traded high stress for high satisfaction, knowing that the jobs the state government agency provides are life-changing for its blind or visually impaired workers.

“If it weren’t for us, they wouldn’t have a place of employment,” Brister told the Greenwood Rotary Club on Tuesday.

Mississippi Industries for the Blind is based in Jackson, with a satellite operation in Meridian. It employs 100 to 130 people, 70% of whom have to be at least legally blind, Brister said.

The operation receives no state funding but instead supports itself from sales of the products it manufactures.

The military is one of its largest customers. For the past 75 years, for example, all the barracks, or duffel, bags issued to U.S. service members have been made by Mississippi Industries for the Blind, Brister said. The workers produce 10,000 to 30,000 of the cloth bags a month, and Brister said he has not heard a single complaint on their quality.

Brister was hired a decade ago to help the facility achieve ISO 9001 certification, a highly regarded standard of quality management in manufacturing. He said Mississippi Industries for the Blind has kept a perfect record in maintaining that certification.  

Mississippi Industries for the Blind has “as big a product catalog as Office Depot,” he said. Its multitude of offerings range from sponges for the Navy to metal carts for the U.S. Postal Service to strapping for the shipping industry.

It does $10 million to $11 million a year in gross revenue, he said.

At the end of the work day, Brister leaves the plant feeling positive about his job and its impact, he said.

“We do a good thing.”

Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or tkalich@gwcommonwealth.com.

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